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Sunshine State Report

The latest on college sports in Florida

College Football Playoff: Five thoughts on who might be coming to Tampa

The College Football Playoff have announced the two semifinals that will decide who comes to Tampa for the Jan. 9 national championship: No. 1 Alabama faces No. 4 Washington in the Peach Bowl, and No. 2 Clemson plays No. 3 Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.

Now that the matchups have sunk in, here are my five thoughts:

1. Washington might not be an easy matchup for ‘Bama after all. Not stylistically. I still think the way to beat the Crimson Tide is through some shifts and formations, like what Florida showed in the SEC Championship, plus a running quarterback. That doesn't sound like Washington. But the Huskies do have some other traits that might help end Alabama's 25-game winning streak. The Tide's defensive weakness is its secondary, and Washington can challenge that. Quarterback Jake Browning is No. 5 nationally in passer rating, and receivers John Ross and Dante Pettis are in the top 10 in touchdown catches. And you can't turn the ball over against ‘Bama and expect to win. The Huskies are plus-21 in turnover margin - No. 1 in the country. …

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Fennelly: Penn State's win puts CFP committee in a pickle

Florida is still being dusted for fingerprints, but we think we know the names of the guys who did it. Be on the lookout for a short coach brandishing a dynasty.

It’s Alabama.

And everyone else.

But which everyones?

To me, it’s Clemson, Washington and … Penn State.

That’s right.

Ohio State can dot the “i” in indignant all it wants.

Per chance to dream …

Won’t happen.

The College Football Playoff selection committee is in a pickle. Its credibility is on the clock. And still will be after it chooses Ohio State over Penn State.

I’m sure committee members were on the tops of tables, singing “On Wisconsin” when Penn State was losing 28-7 Saturday night in the Big Ten championship game. A Wisconsin win would have today so easy.

Not now.

Penn State is sitting there.

It plays in the best conference in America this season.

It has won nine games in a row.

It came from behind to beat Wisconsin for the Big Ten title.

Oh, and it beat Ohio State.

And that is about to mean nothing.

Alabama. Clemson. Washington. Penn State.

Not a chance.

Urban Meyer and his Ohio State Buckeyes sat on their duffs Saturday. And they appear a lock for the CFP.

Why do they even bother with these conference title games?

Abolish them. Now. …

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Florida Gators' Quincy Wilson, Jalen Tabor and Caleb Brantley mum on NFL draft

ATLANTA - NFL draft decisions will have to wait for a few Florida Gators.

A few players - cornerbacks Quincy Wilson and Jalen Tabor, defensive tackle Caleb Brantley and offensive tackle David Sharpe, to name four - could leave early for the NFL. All four said after Saturday's SEC Championship that they had not yet made up their minds and will do so in the coming weeks.

Wilson, Tabor and Brantley have all been projected as potential first-round picks in various mock drafts since the summer, for what that's worth.

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Tim Tebow isn't picking the Florida Gators to beat Alabama

ATLANTA -- Former Florida Gators star Tim Tebow isn't picking his former team to beat mighty Alabama in Saturday's SEC Championship. 

"I think a lot has to go right, to be honest with you," Tebow said Friday afternoon. "I think they have to get a few turnovers. I don't think they can turn the ball over. I think they'll have to get a defense or a special teams touchdown and find a way to get, you know, 13 to 17 points offensively. I think that would be really hard, so I think it's going to be tough, but, shoot, that's why they play the game."

Tebow was in the Georgia Dome as an SEC Network analyst. If he were just down the hall in the UF locker room, here's what he said he would tell the Gators: Listen, all those guys, you played against the rest of these guys in high school, in U.S. Army All-American games, in Under Armour All-America Game, all that. You know who they are. They're not invincible. Guess what? When you hit them hard enough, they get knocked down too.

Tebow said UF would have to create the us-against-the-world mentality Urban Meyer did in 2006 to have a chance against 'Bama, a three-touchdown favorite. 

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Florida Gators' Doug Nussmeier has done outstanding 'based on the hands we were dealt'

ATLANTA -- Fans looking for a scapegoat for the Florida Gators' offense won't find one in offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier.

At least not according to head coach Jim McElwain.

"He's done an outstanding job based on the hands we were dealt when we got here..." McElwain said Friday in his final news conference before Friday's SEC Championship.

I touched on some of those hands in today's Tampa Bay Times - the seven healthy offensive linemen he had on scholarship in the first spring practice, no holdover quarterbacks and only three offensive starters from that regime.

McElwain said Nussmeier has done a good job of figuring out those pieces and finding ways to win with them, even if the circumstances aren't ideal.

"Obviously there's things that need to be continually tweaked and looked at. You know what? The one thing I do know is our guys play their tails off, and that's great to see. It will be a constant evolution as we move forward as to how we go about it."

One of Nussmeier's former bosses, Alabama coach Nick Saban, praised Nussmeier, too said he didn't want him to leave for Michigan. …

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Florida Gators linebacker Jarrad Davis expected to play in SEC Championship

ATLANTA - Florida Gators coach Jim McElwain said he expects linebacker Jarrad Davis to return from an ankle injury and play in Saturday's SEC Championship.

Davis, one of the nation's top linebackers, has missed all of the last three games due to injury. Even with that time off, his 56 tackles are the second-most on the team.

Davis paarticipated in some of the pregame warmups last week at Florida State but watched the game in street clothes. 

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Florida State's Tarvarus McFadden named nation's top defensive back

Florida State cornerback Tarvarus McFadden has been named the Jack Tatum Award winner as the country's top defensive back.

McFadden had eight interceptions - tied for the most in the nation and the most by any FSU player since Terrell Buckley (12 in 1991).

The award will be presented by the Touchdown Club of Columbus in February. 

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On the relationship between Jim McElwain and Nick Saban

As the Florida Gators prepare to face No. 1 Alabama in Saturday's SEC title game, you might be wondering about the relationship between Jim McElwain and Nick Saban. 

Saban hired McElwain at 'Bama. McElwain did well enough there to become a head coach at Colorado State, and now at UF. 

I wrote a piece about their relationship last year, as McElwain was preparing to face Saban for the first time in the Georgia Dome. Here it is again, because what I wrote then is still relevant today:

The biggest sign of respect Florida coach Jim McElwain shows his mentor isn't in what he says. It's what he doesn't say.

Occasionally, when McElwain drops a reference to something he picked up from the man he used to work for, McElwain will credit the source with one word: "Coach."

No first name. No last name. Just a title.

The rest is unspoken but understood. Alabama coach Nick Saban.

"He took a flyer on some guy from Montana who was out west and gave him an opportunity to coach at one of the greatest places in all of college football in the best conference in the United States of America," McElwain said. "For that opportunity, I just can't tell you how grateful I am and how lucky I am." …

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Jim McElwain says he hasn't heard from the Oregon Ducks, and he isn't interested

Florida Gators coach Jim McElwain said he has not heard from the Oregon Ducks, and he's not interested in joining them.

"Look, I've got a heck of a job," McElwain said. "In case anybody checked, this is the University of Florida. We're playing in what they call the SEC championship game. It really hasn't crossed my mind." 

McElwain said he suspects that the rumor emerged for recruiting reasons, and he spent a lot of time on the phone Tuesday night talking with prospects about it.

For more background on McElwain and the Oregon rumors, here's what I wrote Tuesday.

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Florida State's DeMarcus Walker named ACC defensive player of the year

Florida State defensive end DeMarcus Walker has been named the ACC's defensive player of the year, as voted on by the media and announced Wednesday.

Walker's 15 sacks are tied for the most in the country.

Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson was the ACC's player of the year, overall and on offense. FSU running back Dalvin Cook earned three of the 47 votes in each category.

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What this weekend's title games mean to the College Football Playoff

The penultimate round of the College Football Playoff selection committee's rankings gave us some insight into just how meaningful this weekend's conference title games will be.

Here's a guide for the weekend, in chronological order, with an eye toward the Jan. 9 national championship at Raymond James Stadium:

Pac-12 championship (9 p.m. Friday): No. 4 Washington vs. No. 8 Colorado

What it means: If the Huskies win, they're in the final four. If the Buffs win, it gets shaky. Colorado would have ranked wins (in the committee's eyes) against No. 18 Stanford and No. 20 Utah, plus No. 4 Washington. But No. 5 Michigan beat the Buffs 45-28 in September, and the Wolverines also have wins over No. 7 Penn State and No. 6 Wisconsin. Could the Buffs jump past Michigan and whoever wins the Big Ten?

Bedlam (12:30 p.m. Saturday): No. 10 Oklahoma State at No. 9 Oklahoma …

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CFP rankings: Should Florida State be ahead of the Louisville Cardinals?

One of the most interesting parts of Tuesday's latest College Football Playoff selection committee rankings was that Florida State rose to No. 12, jumping past Louisville in a move that likely puts the Seminoles in the Orange Bowl.

You know, the same Louisville team that beat FSU 63-20 in one of the worst defeats in Seminoles history? The one that scored the most points FSU had ever allowed, in the fourth-biggest loss FSU ever absorbed? The one I described as a humiliation?

Yeah, that Louisville team.

So what gives?

The ‘Noles and Cardinals both have 9-3 records. Louisville limped toward the end of the season, while FSU is playing well and as hot as any team in the country, as coach Jimbo Fisher said after last week's win over Florida.

It's worth noting, too, that FSU had the country's 13th toughest schedule, according to Sagarin's fancy metrics. Louisville was No. 66.

I could give you my opinion, but it doesn't matter. The one that does matter belongs to Kirby Hocutt, the CFP committee's chairman. Here's what he said Tuesday night: …

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New Year's Six bowl looks likely for Florida State, possible for Florida Gators

Florida and Florida State are both alive for New Year's Six bowls.

The Seminoles rose two spots to No. 12 in the latest set of the College Football Playoff selection committee's rankings, released Tuesday night. That's one ahead of Louisville - a 63-20 victor over FSU in September.

Assuming this order stays next week, FSU would be the No. 2 ACC team. And assuming Clemson goes to the final four, FSU would be headed to the Orange Bowl - a fifth consecutive New Year's Six/BCS bowl.

Florida was No. 15, one spot below Auburn for the second SEC team. The Tigers are the favorites to go to the Sugar Bowl (assuming Alabama heads to the playoff), but the Gators might be able to jump Auburn if they have an impressive showing in Saturday's SEC title game. That's a big if, of course.

The top four: ‘Bama, Ohio State, Clemson and Washington.

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Florida State's Deondre Francois named ACC rookie of the year

Florida State redshirt freshman quarterback Deondre Francois has been named the ACC's rookie of the year, as voted on by the media and announced by the league on Tuesday.

Francois earned 25 votes, putting him ahead of Clemson defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence and Duke quarterback Daniel Jones, who received seven votes each.

Francois was also the offensive rookie of the year, ahead of Miami receiver Ahmmon Richards, who tied for second behind Jones.

Lawrence was the defensive rookie of the year, with Miami linebacker Shaquille Quarterman, Miami defensive lineman Joe Jackson and FSU defensive end Brian Burns.

In other ACC news, Miami coach Mark Richt received one vote for coach of the year (which Virginia Tech's Justin Fuente won).

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Let's talk about Florida Gators' Jim McElwain and the Oregon Ducks

USA Today's Dan Wolken, who brought us the possibility of Jim McElwain leaving for Texas, has raised a new scenario:

McElwain bolting the Florida Gators for the Oregon Ducks and their not-yet-open coaching vacancy.

Here's what Wolken wrote:

There also are whispers that Florida's Jim McElwain could be intrigued by the opportunity to return to the Pacific Northwest, close to where he went to college and started his coaching career at Eastern Washington. Despite winning SEC East titles in his first two years, McElwain has been a bit under-appreciated by the Florida fan base and just got a new athletics director in Gainesville.

I'm not sure where whispers fall in the spectrum of speculation (below rumblings, I guess?), but let's roll with it.

We'll start with the first part, about the Pacific Northwest. …

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